Seen through a pair of captured Soviet binoculars, Ainak village lies lifeless amid a heavy ring of Soviet Army posts and mine fields.
The squat, concrete guard posts atop the surrounding ridges are not defending the village, abandoned years ago by its people. They guard what the Soviets and the Afghan government say is underneath Ainak's adjacent mountains: one of the world's richest copper deposits.
This lonely outpost of Soviet military power, defending the site of a proposed copper mining and smelting complex, betrays an important Soviet priority in this war and Moscow's difficulty in achieving it. Nearly seven years after it invaded Afghanistan, the Soviet Union is working steadily to exploit this country's considerable natural resources, and, some analysts suspect, integrate the Afghan economy with its own.
A visit to Ainak in July, and subsequent interviews with Afghans in this country and abroad, suggest that the Soviets are pursuing a long-held goal of using Afghan resources to help economic development in adjacent areas of Soviet Central Asia. It appears, however, that the Soviets are seriously hampered by Afghanistan's forbidding terrain and the guerrilla resistance to their occupation here.
Former Afghan officials who worked alongside Soviet technical advisers during the 1960s and 1970s said in interviews that the advisers systematically collected information on this country's natural resources and withheld it from the Afghan government. In some cases, they argued, Moscow tried to prevent Afghanistan from developing its resources, particularly in any project with western participation.
Afghanistan has important deposits of copper, iron, petroleum and natural gas, plus unknown amounts of uranium, all of which appear to interest the Soviets.
Afghanistan's Moscow-installed government frequently cites the Ainak copper project as an example of how the Soviet Union is helping to develop the Afghan economy. On July 16, the official Kabul New Times said a new high-tension power line from the Soviet Union, meant partly "for commissioning the Ainak copper mine complex, is one of the most important state projects and yet another manifestation of economic cooperation of Soviet Union to our people."
Far from being a construction site for an industrial project, Ainak and its exploratory copper mine seem simply a fortified island, surrounded by rugged country in which the resistance fighters, or mujaheddin, operate freely. The ill-defined dirt track leading to a distant paved road and Kabul, and a helipad built next to the spartan mining camp, testify to transport difficulties here.
"The helicopters come every few days and bring the workers, mostly Soviets," said Ahmed Ji, a local commander of the resistance. "They take out some ore the same way."
No electrical or telephone lines to the camp were visible, lending credibility to the guerrillas' claims that they have cut off land communications to the mine.
Suleiman Khel, a mujahed from Ainak, squinted through the binoculars from a wind-swept mountaintop overlooking his native village.
Ainak "was just like any other village; we had farms, we raised sheep and goats," Suleiman Khel said. As did many in Ainak, Suleiman Khel took a job, as a driver, at the mine.
"In that time there were both Russian and Afghan engineers, but after the [communist] coup in 1978, there were only Russians in charge. They pressured us [the Afghan workers] to join" the Communist Party youth organization.
When the resistance to the communists began, Suleiman Khel said, the authorities arrested many villagers and began building defenses around the mine. Within a few years of the coup, and the 1979 Soviet invasion, the villagers had all fled as refugees to neighboring Pakistan.
Now, Suleiman Khel and other men from Ainak and nearby villages live in sheltered ravines near here and continue their fight against the Soviets. Because of the mine fields, "we can only attack with our long-range weapons, such as mortars and rockets," said Ahmed Ji, "but we have too few of those."
The mujaheddin have been unable to prevent the Soviets from pumping natural gas through underground pipelines from the rich fields of northern Afghanistan.
"Gas is the only resource the Soviets have been able to successfully exploit," said former Kabul University professor Sayed Majrooh, who monitors the war from Pakistan.
It was the Soviet Union that helped the Afghans develop their gas fields in the 1960s.
"One problem with the gas was that they were not willing to help us use it locally," said Abdulaziz Ferogh, an Afghan economist who served as a deputy planning minister in the 1970s and now lives in New York. "They wanted only to build pipelines to pump the gas into the Soviet Union, but not to send it to our own cities or help us build our own industry."
An American geologist who studies Soviet economic involvement in Afghanistan, John F. Shroder, said participants in a recent conference in Washington of scholars on the Afghan and Soviet economies had agreed that Afghan gas and other resources are being used, or could be, to make up for deficiencies of raw materials in the Soviet Central Asian republics.
Several former Afghan officials complained that, in building the pipeline, the Soviets had installed the meters on their own side of the border, preventing the Afghans from monitoring how much gas they pumped to the Soviet Union.
Mir Zaman Mohmand, who defected from Kabul in 1983, was a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Mines and Industry. "The ministry bureaucrats all knew our information on how much gas we had sold [to the Soviet Union] came from the Russians themselves," Mohmand said.
Mohmand, who directed the ministry's Geological Survey Department for several years before fleeing to Pakistan, said the ministry's Soviet technical advisers made and withheld detailed studies of the country's resources.
"After the 1978 coup, they told me, 'This is our revolution. Now we will tell you how to work,' " Mohmand said.
Amir Jan Nuristani, a geologist in the department, said Soviet advisers accompanied all the geological survey teams.
"Where the Russians were interested -- wherever they found signs of important resources -- they hid the information by keeping the samples and maps" and sending them back to the Soviet Union, he said.
Mohmand and others argued that the Soviet Union had interceded frequently in the last 40 years to prevent Afghanistan from developing resources, especially in northern Afghanistan, in cooperation with western or international agencies.
Shroder, who worked in Afghanistan for several years in the late 1970s, said that in discussing potential ways of developing the Afghan economy, "I heard so many times from the Afghans that 'the Russians won't let us do that.' "
Afghans and other analysts said they are disturbed by a pattern of Soviet efforts to integrate the northern Afghan economy with that of the adjacent Soviet Central Asian republics to the north.
Shroder, interviewed by telephone from the University of Nebraska, said the Soviets are extending railroads, dams and other basic facilities into northern Afghanistan.